Entered Pakistan, 1st September 2000.
Exchange Rate: 1USD= 54 Pakistan Rupee
Fuel: 1 Litre = 28 Rupee
Camping: 50 Rupee
Guest House/ Hotel: 130-350 Rupee
Road conditions:�Generally bad, see below.
Speed limits: Irrelevant, limited by conditions so that it is impossible to speed.
Border crossings from Iran: Only one at Tafta.
Food & Drink: 250ml Pepsi 10Rp, 1.5L Mineral water 10Rp, Main meal typically 70-100Rp
Pakistan was created after India won independence in 1947. ‘India’ then included Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. The bulk of India is Hindu, but there were a lot of Muslims, and the idea was that all Muslims in India would move to Pakistan, and all Hindu’s in Pakistan move to India. A huge population swap occurred, and the exchange was particularly brutal, with atrocities committed by both sides, and there has been tension between India and Pakistan ever since. To this day, they are fighting over control the Kashmir and Jammu districts. The original Pakistan included Bangladesh, thousands of kilometres away. It finally proved impossible to manage, and Bangladesh broke away. Even within Pakistan, the military government has little control over much of the country. They are hoping to be able to return to a democratic government within the next few years.
Pakistan is generally regarded as one of the more dangerous places to visit. Particularly in the north, there are many Hindu’s, Sikh’s, Afghan refugee’s and what I assume are Tibetan or Chinese. I saw no problems of integration, but there are obviously some significant political problems here. Most of Pakistan is subject to terrorism from Muslim extremists, and I heard several reports of bombings and rocket attacks throughout the country in the short time I was there. Within days of leaving Islamabad for the last time, someone bombed the Sunday market which resulted to 14 dead and many more seriously injured. I was at that market the weekend before! Tourists are not targets, and you would have to be unlucky to get caught up in their problems. The real danger here is road accidents. The driving standards, and the roads are terrible. In my short time in Pakistan, I heard of several accidents involving foreigners. A German on a BMW R1100GS (not the one I met on the KKH) had a head on with a truck near Lahore, and had to fly home with a broken leg and arm, amongst other things. An Austrian on a KTM had to go home after an accident. He had serious cuts to a foot (and he was wearing motocross boots). This injury normally would only be a problem for a few weeks, but after a month laid up in Quetta, his foot was not healing. he went to Islamabad to see a specialist, but still could not get the problem adequately seen to, so he flew home. My biggest worry in third world countries is not so much getting hurt as the quality of the medical care. Minor problems can so easily become life threatening.
Road accidents are extremely common with the locals too. As in Iran, Pakistani’s don’t seem to do preventative maintenance on their vehicles. I saw many trucks, cars, busses etc that had crashed, and particularly with the trucks and busses, the crash seemed to be due to a mechanical failure. Broken springs, axle stubs, steering arms etc. The roads are littered with broken down vehicles. They do all the repairs on the road side, and they make little effort to get the vehicle off the road. I saw them working on gearboxes, differentials, engines, axles etc using the road as a workshop. They make no effort to collect the oil, and the road becomes absolutely covered in oil. That is a real ‘joy’ to see for a motorcyclist in particular. Add a little rain, and it really gets interesting.
Pakistan is a very inexpensive country. Although the cost of fuel is much higher than Iran, it is the second cheapest so far. Food, drink and accommodation are all very inexpensive, and it is quite easy to get by on less than US$10 a day, excluding petrol.
Despite the internal problems, the people are very friendly, and genuinely interested in travellers. Everyone says hello, the usual crowds develop whenever I stop, and in one town caused a major traffic jam that led me to the local police station! More on that later. Much of Pakistan is desert, and conditions are very tough for the people. I am totally at a loss to know just how the survive out there. They can’t grow much of anything, plant or animal, and government support is virtually non-existent. Most of the south is hot and humid all year round, but the north holds the Himalayas, and from just north of the capital Islamabad, temperatures are generally cooler than the rest of Pakistan, which is just as well because coming up from the south, I had some of the hottest riding conditions I have experienced in my life.
The border crossing from Iran to Pakistan was interesting to say the least. I had left Bam, Iran at 6am, and had an uneventful ride to the border. It was desert all the way, so the roads were mostly straight and the scenery generally uninteresting. I was determined to get to the border crossing before lunch, and avoid the mid-day siesta they all seem to take. I was making good time, but I needed fuel, and eventually had to backtrack 35km to Zahedan, the last major town before the border. The highway bypasses the town, but I thought there must be a fuel station somewhere on the highway before the border, but there wasn’t. Once at the border, I had to struggle my way through the Iranian bureaucracy. In all I had to go to 5 different buildings to get all the necessary stamps to exit Iran. I guess one way to solve the unemployment situation is to give them all government jobs, but honestly, it was a joke the hoops you have to jump through just to get out of the country, not to mention the inefficiency.
The time taken to exit Iran, and having to backtrack for fuel made me just 5 minutes late to enter Pakistan before their siesta. I had to wait 3 hours in 40�+ heat for them to reopen. Everything was hot. I sat under a shelter and tried to rest on the (hot) concrete floor. For the whole time, I had to fend off money changers and one was so persistent that I lost my temper with him, and gave him a lesson in English swear words. It was all in vain though, he still kept trying! I don’t often lose my temper, but I had nowhere to go to escape these guys.
The Pakistan customs officers picked up something I and the Iranian customs officers missed. On my Carnet, the frame number is missing a digit, and the engine number is completely wrong. They told me that for 200 Rupees, they would overlook the problem. I was taken by surprise at first, this was my first case of outright corruption, but I knew it was coming at some point on the trip. I talked him down to 100 Rupees (less than $2), and was happy to get away with that.
My Carnet serial numbers not matching my bike is sure to cause me big problems at some point on this trip. The situation was due a lack of time. The bike I am riding actually belongs to KTM, and I thought they were organising the Carnet. I found out only days before I was due to leave that nothing had been done, so I had KTM email me the frame and engine numbers. The Frame number was correct, though the AA in the UK left out one digit when preparing the Carnet, but the engine number bears no resemblance to the one in my bike at all. They must have changed their minds about which engine to fit at the last moment. The bike is a pre-production 2001 model, and the motor has several modifications. I am going to get an aluminium plate cut, and the punch the matching engine number on it, then glue it over the old one. It is crude, but the engine number is on the bottom of the motor, and hopefully it won’t be noticed. I can’t get the Carnet changed now at this late stage, and white-out instantly makes the Carnet invalid. I was organising the Carnet from Dublin, and had it posted direct from the AA in England to KTM in Austria. I first set eyes on it about 1 hour before I started the trip.
Finally, I got through customs, and they were trying to talk me into staying at Tafta (the border town) for the night. It didn’t look a very inviting place, so I headed off and made about 250km into Pakistan to a small town called Dalbandin, which had a hotel. The hotel was clean and cheap, but the room had no ventilation, and was just so hot. Outside was quite tolerable, but my room was like an oven. I put up with it, but I didn’t have much of a sleep. The temperature was in the high thirties all night, and close to100% humidity, so the fan wasn’t much of a help before the town’s power shut down for the night at 10pm. It was here that I encountered the power of multinationals to control prices around the world. I bought a tube of Colgate toothpaste for the equivalent of 40 cents Australian. The product was identical to what I buy at home, right down to the packaging, and in fact it was made in Sydney, but at home I would pay close to $3. Obviously the price is based on what the market can bear, not the cost of manufacture plus a reasonable margin. Most businesses can only dream of margins like that.
Next morning, tired and still hot, I headed for Quetta, the first major town about 350km away. The riding was reasonable, still mostly desert, but occasional cultivation wherever there was water. The road is very narrow and often rough. In many places, the sand dunes were encroaching the road, and in other places the wind deposited a fine layer of sand that made the grip inconsistent. The only fuel between Tafta and Quetta is from plastic jerry cans from any of the hundreds of road-side sellers. There are no bowsers at all, barring diesel. I am told it is all black market Iranian fuel, and is quite a bit cheaper at 17 Rupees a litre, compared to 27 from Quetta on. Iranian fuel only costs the equivalent of 2 Rupees, so someone is making a handsome profit. Another little feature Pakistan throw in for interest is really big, sharp speed bumps about 2m apart, on both sides of rail crossings. The first one I hit at about 80kph, and it is a great way to check how good your luggage is mounted. My luggage was seemed fine, but later in the day, my top box fell off, and dragged down the road for about 100m until I could get off the road because of road works. I had to go back and pick up shoes and bits and pieces that were scattered all over the road. This top box has plastic mounts, and both the front and the rear mounts broke. The company that makes them (not Touratech) obviously haven’t done much testing of them because I only have about 4Kg in the box, and it should have been able to take what I have given it so far. I now have to tie it down with bungee straps on all corners.
60. Old Bedford’s never die, they just go to Pakistan. At least half of all the trucks in Pakistan are like this old English Bedford, probably built in the 1960’s. The owners take incredible pride in their trucks, and every one is decorated like this one or better.
Approaching Quetta, I saw a sign pointing to Islamabad, which was my destination, so I foolishly followed it (I have learned since, never trust signs in this part of the world). I was confused because according to my GPS, I should go through Quetta. I didn’t have enough faith in the map in the GPS so I followed the sign, thinking there must be a new road which wasn’t on the GPS yet, otherwise why would they be directing traffic this way? I was headed south east, but I needed to go north east, so I asked someone the way, and they pointed the way I was going. I was unconvinced, and asked 3 more people, and one even said it was the only way. Confused, and stinking hot, now approaching 50�, I pressed on unconvinced that it was the right way. I tried to buy a map, but they are virtually unobtainable. It turned out that I could have gone through Quetta, and saved myself 350km and one days stinking hot ride. I found out later that in Pakistan and India, you never, never, never ask for directions, you will be given incorrect information. Most can’t relate to maps, and probably most of them have never had the opportunity to travel more than a short distance from their village, so they just don’t know. They consider it a real embarrassment if they don’t know the answer so they just give you any answer to save face.
At the end of the day, I came to small town, and stopped to ask if there was a hotel. I was absolutely mobbed! I had several people competing to be my host, and had several offers to stay with people. There were so many people around that all traffic came to a standstill. Before long the police arrived, and the next thing I knew I was following them back to the police station. They put me up for the night, where I shared a room with 4 constables. It was air-conditioned which was a god send. They fed me rice with dal (a lentil stew), japatti (flat bread) and chicken. I had my first experience of eating that type of food with no cutlery, just fingers.
The next day, conditions were similar. The going was very slow. The heat, humidity, narrow roads, trucks, busses, mini vans, lunatic car drivers, motorcycles, kamikaze pedestrians, camels, cattle, weaving bicycles, goats, animal drawn carts, sheep, dogs, water buffaloes, rocks, potholes, mud, oil, etc, etc….. makes it impossible to make significant headway. Speed limits are totally irrelevant, as conditions dictate speed. Pakistan doesn’t have a great deal to offer tourists until you reach the north, so making my way up, I was just trying to cover as much distance as possible in the shortest time. I thought I could make Islamabad in two days, but it ended up taking three and a half, so I was frustrated. The main reason for going to Islamabad (the capital of Pakistan) was to get my Indian visa. On the 4th day, I was still about 250km short of Islamabad. Embassies usually accept visa applications between 10am and 12 noon, so I made a early start, and arrived at 11:30, just in time I thought. It turns out that in Pakistan, they are only open from 9:30am to 11:00am, so I had to kill a day. I needed to change the rear tyre, chain and sprockets. I had the sprockets, but getting a tyre and chain turned out to be an exercise in frustration. They just don’t have our sizes over here. the biggest tyre they have is a 100/90-18, where the KTM takes a 140/80-18, or 40mm narrower, and a lower profile. I couldn’t even get a 520 chain, which is one of the most common types available. I decided to hang on until I get to Delhi, India, which also proved to be an exercise in frustration. I have since found that getting suitable tyres, chains, or even high quality oil is not possible after Istanbul, until you reach Bangkok (but even in there, the biggest tyre I could get was a 130/80) , so even if they aren’t worn out, it may pay to change them in Istanbul, or carry replacements which can be a real pain. If a local was very enterprising enough, they could make a small fortune catering to overland travellers with tyres, chains, oil and accessories.
Islamabad is a very modern and attractive city. It is such a stark contrast to the rest of Pakistan. There are several ATM’s, so finally I was able to get cash. I was having to change US dollars everywhere else. I was amazed by the blatant copyright infringements here. Obviously the government doesn’t care, as it is a great way generate money from nothing. Music CD’s, computers CD’s, books, all for 45 to 60 Rupees each ( less than a dollar). All are in professional packaging like the originals. I swear I didn’t know they were copies sir!
Visa application submitted, I way on my way to the main attraction in Pakistan, especially for motorcyclists, the KKH or Karakoram Highway. I have no idea why it is called the Karakoram highway, because it does not go to the Karakoram pass in Kashmir, but to the Khunjerab pass, and it is hardly a highway. It is the only reliable road link between China and the Subcontinent.
47. You may have to zoom in to see it, but rocks on the road like this are typical because of huge landslides. This particular road is before the KKH, on the scenic road between Murree and Abbottabad, just north of Islamabad. I had tried to go further north from Murree, but was turned back because I was getting too close to the troublesome Kashmir district.
As I rode North, the weather started to look threatening, and by 5pm it started raining. The road was really treacherous, slippery, bumpy, oil patches etc, so I pulled into the first hotel I could find. It was quite pleasant, cheap, and I could get the bike out of the weather. A few minutes later, a Dutch couple on an Enfield turned up. They had fallen off 10 minutes before, with no injuries, and they decided to pull in for the day too. It was here that I picked up another dose of food poisoning. The next day, I started out OK, but by 11am, my stomach was doing cart wheels, and latter in the day, I had to pull over and lay down for a while to come to terms with the pain in my gut. I had intended to get to Karimibad, but had to settle for Gilgit. It was on this day that I met 3 Germans and a South African that I would meet up again with in India and travel together for some time. There was a BMW R1100GS and 3 Honda Africa Twins. After having travelled 18,000km these were the first bikers I had met going my way (or any way for that matter). I really had expected to cross paths with riders everywhere, but it wasn’t to be. According to some of the locals, this years tourist season was way down on last year, probably due to the escalating Kashmir conflict, and trouble from Afghan terrorists.
48. Typical gorge on the KKH.
I stayed in Gilgit for 3 days in all. The first two I was really sick. I had a fever, severe runs (like twenty times in the course of a night) nightmares, hallucinations, head aches. Not a very enjoyable time. I was lucky though because I found a great cheap hotel with off the road parking and a single room with a private (squat) toilet. The last day, I was still very weak, but I was determined to go as close to the Chinese border as I could get. I ended up a little short, but I did get to the last town called Sost or Sust or several other spelling depending on which book or map you read.
The KKH actually was a bit of a disappointment for me. Probably because I had read so much building it up. Don’t get me wrong, it is spectacular, fun to ride on, cheap and tourist friendly. It is a ‘must see’ but I expected more. To be fair, I didn’t see some of what probably would have been spectacular valleys off the KKH because of my food poisoning. I would have liked to have stayed longer, but I was already way behind on my itinerary, and I just had to press on. I realise now that my itinerary is a little ambitious, as it doesn’t allow for the inevitable sick periods, and hold-ups such as I experienced in Turkey. My planned route will bring me back through Pakistan in a few months, so I will have the opportunity to visit here again.
52. Notice the clear water entering from the tributary of the very fast flowing Indus river, which is full of volcanic silt.
At Gilgit, I met an Austrian riding a Royal Enfield (the English bike that the Indian Enfield was copied from). The basic bike was over 30 years old, but it did have a late model Enfield motor, which is virtually unchanged from the original, pre-unit design (separate engine, clutch, gearbox). We rode together from Gilgit back to Islamabad. In spite of a severely slipping clutch, he kept a good pace. Up hill he would lose ground, but down hill he was very aggressive. He ended up sideswiping a van at high speed, but got away with it, no injuries, and just paint off his carry racks. These transport vans have really bad drivers. They cut the corners all the time, and even when they see us, they won’t change their line to accommodate us. Several times I was forced off the road to make way for them. That is not so bad when you are on the outside of the corner, but when you are on the inside, getting off the road can be difficult because apart have having to severely tighten your line, there is a rock wall there. These guys have really poor reaction times, though I am sure they would react quicker if we were trucks, not motorcycles. At one point, I thought I was going to be crushed by a bus. I came into a blind corner, and there was a bus passing another. I was on the inside of the road, so I moved right off the road, into a muddy water drain, and as close to the rock wall as I could get. I had to brake as hard as I could at the same time, and the bus driver just didn’t want to stop. Thankfully he finally did, because there just wasn’t enough room for two busses and a motorcycle on that tight corner.
One really annoying and dangerous thing the children do here is throw stones at us. I don’t know why they do it, but at first I put up with it, but after a while, I would turn around and chase them. They would just run off and hide usually, but I finally caught one. I had just come through a cutting, and he had nowhere to go except up the vertical face. If braked really hard, turned the bike around, and accelerated towards him full throttle, then pulled up only half a metre away from him. I revved the motor several times for dramatic effect, then I yelled at him to never, ever do that again. Of course he wouldn’t understand my English, but he knew exactly what I meant. He was absolutely terrified, and started crying. He was only very young, and I felt mean, but I doubt he will do it again.
61L. A view of the mountains close to the Chinese border.
66. Another mountain view, just south of Sost, far northern Pakistan.
Back in Islamabad, I replaced the clutch in the Royal Enfield, as he didn’t have much mechanical knowledge. Fortunately, he was carrying spares for everything, including clutch springs, friction and driven plates. Enfields are unbelievably easy to work on, which is just as well. Their reliability is not the greatest.
I had expected the others bikers I met on the KKH to be here, but they had gone on to Amritsar, just over the Indian border. It was a Sunday. I had to pick up my visa in the next morning, then I was off for Amritsar, and hopefully catch up with them, since they are basically doing the same trip as far as SE Asia at least. They were a really good bunch of guys. I was looking forward to their company.
Next day, I fronted up to the Indian Embassy, expecting to pick up my visa, and be on my way. They have a really weird system here where you go in the morning, pay for the visa, then they give you a piece of paper to bring back and claim your passport at 5:30pm. Another wasted day! Indian bureaucracy is legendary. The clerk handling my visa wanted me to go and get a letter from my embassy saying that I was the owner of the bike. That would have cost me another day, so I had an arguing match with him, and I was getting really agitated. I finally convinced him that the Carnet is proof that I am the ‘owner’ of the bike, and it was a customs matter, not an immigration matter, so what was he getting involved for? None the less, he had a letter typed for me saying that I was entitled to bring the bike into India. Apparently, he had never heard of or seen a Carnet. He claimed that it would not be possible to get into India without this letter. This was all nonsense of course, as no one needs a letter, but you absolutely must have a Carnet.
This opens up an interesting possibility. It may be possible to get from Europe to Australia without a Carnet. Thailand doesn’t require a Carnet, and bikes can be shipped from Bangkok to Australia. Theoretically, Iran and Pakistan require a Carnet, but I met one biker couple, and heard of several others who had passed through both countries without a Carnet. I believe the letter I was given from the Indian embassy in Islamabad would have got me into India. The (Slovenian) biker couple above that made it through Iran and Pakistan without one, ran into a brick wall in India. They had no Carnet and no letter. Customs seized their bike, and wouldn’t let them pass until they had a valid Carnet sent from home. They wouldn’t even let them go back to Pakistan. They were really pissed off, but they can only blame themselves for their predicament. I was amazed they got that far without the Carnet.
67. This point marks the junction of the three highest mountain ranges in the world. The Pakistan Himalayas include K2, the most difficult mountain to climb.
That’s all for Pakistan. Next is India.